Two marines and a Vietnamese scout come rushing in to the medical bunker unexpectedly with the obviously wounded Vietnamese solder.
He has a hole in his trachea (windpipe) from shrapnel. A major spray of blood comes gushing out with each exhale and I see he is obviously in severe shortness of breath, in danger of asphyxiating from blood accumulating in his lungs with each inhale. Also his eyes are in an absolute terror and panic as he looks at me. I had never seen this before. He managed to keep flailing his arms, trying to keep the corps men on and myself away.
One of the Marines tells me as they leave that the soldier believes he is there to be tortured since that is what he thought was was going to happen if captured.
The only ones who understand a word of Vietnamese in the bunker are the scout and the wounded prisoner. I repeatedly tell the scout to tell the prisoner I want to help him, to save his life. Each time the scout talks to him, the wounded soldier goes again into another wildly failing episode as if fighting us for his life.
I am meanwhile hurriedly preparing a surgical tray with expanders, scalpels, etc to stop the bleeding and secure an airway by doing the tracheotomy before he suffocates from his own blood. By necessity, this has to be done in full view of the soldier.
In the context of Vietnam, I knew there was a 50-50 chance the scout was still telling him I really was going to torture him if he did not give information about his combat unit and their plans. To this day, I do not do not know and will never know what was being said; if he thought to the end that I was there to torture him or to help him.
All of this was happening in 3-4 chaotic minutes.
Finally I did the only thing which seemed to save his life in the midst of the chaos of blood spraying, prisoner terror, etc,. Pushing the scout aside, I had 6 corpsman hold the wounded guy down and gave him just enough of a dose of IV sedative I dared to sedate him but not fatally suppress his already reduced breathing ability.
Good part of the picture. It worked. Tracheal tube put in under sedation. Stable when helicopter picked him out. Every reason to believe he survived.
Not so good part of the story. Was uncomfortable to be seen as part of a possible system of medical torturing. I knew it was not true of any American doctors in Viet Nam. Had real suspicions whether it was also not true of the South Vietnamese or Korean ‘allies’. But the wounded soldier lumped myself and them as part of the same adversary.
A day in Viet Nam.